Syllabubs evolved in the eighteenth century into the dessert we recognize today. For a seventeenth-century syllabub, a cow would have been milked over a bowl of ale or cider. So be grateful my novel is set in 1727.
Syllabub is very rich and sweet, which is why it’s important to introduce a note of sharpness as well. Hannah Glasse wrote one of the most popular recipe books of the period, and her recipe suggests sherry or white wine and the juice and rind of one lemon.
I was inspired by the dessert when I came to introduce one of the main characters in The Devil in the Marshalsea. Kitty Sparks is sharp-witted and quick-tongued, with a very fast temper. This rather appeals to the narrator, Tom Hawkins, who writes: “Her ill-humor was intriguing, like the sharp tang of lemon in a syllabub.”
This modern recipe brings in rhubarb for that necessary sharpness and ginger for warmth and spice. If you’re not keen on rhubarb, Nigel Slater’s classic syllabub is also wonderful—and he has lots of tips for additional options. (I particularly like the idea of serving it with ginger marmalade. Mmmm.)
Finally—don’t forget to serve it with some really good, crunchy cookies. Gingersnaps are perfect.
I wish I could say that I’ve lovingly hand-reared my cow, grown my own lemons, forced my own rhubarb and spent years developing this recipe. Truth is, it was created by a popular British chef named James Martin, who specializes in desserts. Trust me, I’ve sampled my own cooking. Be grateful that I cheated here.
Martin also notes you can make a healthier version by swapping the cream with natural yogurt. But let us not dwell on that.
Recipe from Good Food magazine, April 2012